Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since purpleheart/amaranth is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is purpleheart/amaranth a good guitar tonewood? Purpleheart/amaranth is an excellently balanced tonewood with notable sustain, pronounced bass response, clear top end and a superb overtone profile. It's a well-respected and popular option for fretboards and necks (particularly laminated necks).
In this article, we'll discuss if and how purpleheart/amaranth tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.
Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater's extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with purpleheart/amaranth in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater's site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone's Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Purpleheart/Amaranth Tonewood
- Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Purpleheart/Amaranth Tonewood
Purpleheart comprises tonewoods from the genus Peltogyne within the family Fabaceae. The various species of purpleheart are native to Central and South America and particularly Brazil. Other names for purpleheart include amendoim and amaranth.
Purpleheart is not listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is widely available at affordable prices.
The heartwood of purpleheart has a deep violet/purple colour as it's cut and exposed to air, hence the name. As the wood is exposed to UV, its colour becomes more of a dark brown with a subtle purple hue. The colours of purplewood are big selling points.
Typically, purpleheart grain is straight, though some pieces may exhibit a wavy or irregular grain. Its texture is medium and uniform. However, there is a good amount of variety between the species in terms of colour, texture and density. Practically all species behave similarly enough for use as guitar tonewoods.
Purpleheart is relatively hard (11,190 N / 2,526 lbf Janka) and dense (905 kg/m3 / 56.50 lb/ft3) and has a definite blunting effect on tools. Working purpleheart takes patience, and careful attention should be given to avoid tear-out when planing, especially with pieces that have wavier or more interlocked grain.
Purpleheart can be steam bent relatively well, though patience must be practiced with bending as well. The wood can be brittle as well, so careful working is necessary.
As a tonewood, purpleheart offers a remarkably balanced tone given its density. It's characterized by relatively high sustain and projection along with a resonant bass response, bright mids and clear upper-mid/high-frequency profile. It projects clean fundamentals and overtones with precision and adds subtle warmth across the low and low-mid frequencies.
Here are a few notable purpleheart/amaranth specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: grayish/purplish brown to dark brown with deep purple hue
- Grain: usually straight, sometimes wavy or irregular
- Texture: medium
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 905 kg/m3 / 56.50 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 11,190 N / 2,526 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 20.26 GPa / 2,938,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
- Price: low to moderate
Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
• IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
• CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don't have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, signal chain and amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It's not all about the wood, though it is a factor.
Purpleheart is a superb fretboard wood for electric guitars and even sees use in necks and bodies, though it's usually laminated. It's a fairly popular choice in commercially-available electric guitars as a fretboard wood.
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
As mentioned, purpleheart is a dense and hard tonewood. Even though it offers a nice, balanced tone, it's largely considered too heavy for solid electric guitar bodies.
It could be a viable and aesthetically pleasing top/veneer piece to a solid body (or hollowbody) electric guitar if the luthier is willing to work it. Due to its dryness and liability to split/crack, it's often not worth the hassle to use as a top. There are several easier and arguably better-sounding top tonewoods on the market (maple and poplar come to mind).
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Purpleheart is dense and hard, making it somewhat impractical as a solid neck wood. However, some big-name manufacturers use purpleheart in laminate neck designs (often with maple) to obtain a more balanced tone from the neck.
Alone, a solid purpleheart neck may throw off the weight distribution of the guitar (unless the body is also heavy, which isn't so ergonomic). As a laminate, luthiers can obtain some of the tonal character of purpleheart without all the weight. Plus, it looks great.
Examples of electric guitars with purpleheart/amaranth necks:
- Schecter C-1 Exotic Ebony: solidbody with maple/purplewood laminate neck (ebony fretboard)
- Ibanez Joe Satriani Signature JS240PS: solidbody with 3-piece maple/purpleheart neck (panga panga fretboard)
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Purpleheart's claim to fame is as a fretboard material. So long as it's worked properly to avoid splitting, purpleheart will feel smooth and offer superb tone in a durable fretboard.
Ibanez, in particular, uses purpleheart in many of its electric guitar fretboards. Jackson uses the term amaranth and is also a proponent of its use in its high-quality electric guitar fretboards.
Examples of electric guitars with purpleheart/amaranth fretboards:
- Jackson King V JS32T: solidbody with amaranth fretboard
- Jackson Monarkh SC JS22: solidbody with amaranth fretboard
- Ibanez Gio GRG131DX: solidbody with purpleheart fretboard
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Purpleheart is a fantastic tonewood for acoustic guitars as well, though it's not overly common. As is the case with electric guitars, this dense hardwood is typically reserved for fretboards. However, it's also used in acoustic guitar backs and sides, just not at a commercial level.
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Purpleheart can be a superb back and side material for acoustic guitar if it can be successfully bent into shape. It offers very balanced tonality and punchiness to the overall sound of the instrument.
However, its difficulty makes it a subpar choice for mass-produced acoustic and classical guitars. Purpleheart, then, is relegated to smaller shops willing to experiment with the wood to produce guitars that benefit from the balance and clarity of this hardwood.
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Purpleheart is considered too heavy and brittle to be a practical acoustic or classical top wood. The most popular top tonewoods (spruce, cedar, maple, mahogany) are much lighter while maintaining a high stiffness-to-weight ratio that allows for good projection and overall sonic performance.
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Purpleheart/amaranth could be a good acoustic guitar neck tonewood, particularly if it's laminated with something lighter. However, purpleheart is rarely seen in commercially-viable acoustic and classical guitars.
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Like their electric counterparts, acoustic and classical guitars typically have purpleheart fretboards when the tonewood is incorporated into their design.
Once again, purpleheart feels smooth and offers superb tone in a durable fretboard.
Examples of acoustic guitars with purpleheart/amaranth fretboards:
- Ibanez PF28ECE: acoustic with purpleheart fretboard
- Ibanez GA34STCE: classical with purpleheart fretboard
Is Purpleheart/Amaranth A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Purpleheart or amaranth (depending on what the manufacturer wants to call it) is also used in bass guitars. Fretboard and laminate necks are the two pieces of bass guitars that benefit from the superb purpleheart tonewood.
Examples of bass guitars with purpleheart/amaranth tonewood:
- ESP LTD B-1004: solidbody electric bass with 5-piece purpleheart/wenge laminate neck
- Ibanez Premium SR1300SB: solidbody electric bass with 5-piece panga panga/purpleheart neck
- Jackson Concert Bass JS3Q: solidbody electric bass with amaranth fretboard
- Fodera Yin Yang 4 Standard: solidbody electric bass purpleheart body top and fretboard
- Ibanez AEB105E: acoustic bass with purpleheart fretboard
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides purpleheart/amaranth. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro
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